Baby Fever: 1863 Style

This seems to be a stage of my life when many of my friends are expecting babies, so recently some of my spare time has been occupied with coordinating RSVP lists for baby showers, assembling baby shower party favors, and shopping for baby clothes for gifts. I might have a little baby fever at the moment?! All this happiness and these baby things reminded me of a delightful section in the letters of Frederic and Elizabeth Lockley in the book Toward a More Perfect Union. Their daughters had a lot of curiosity about exactly how to get a little sibling…

Mother & Child sculpture at the Huntington Library, American Art Gallery. (Photograph by Sarah Kay Bierle)

In 1862 Frederic enlisted in the 7th New York Heavy Artillery, leaving behind his young wife, Elizabeth (Lizzie) and his three young daughters. His first wife had died, and he had married Lizzie in February 1861, to the delight of his little daughters who loved their step-mama. (One of the girls actually asked Lizzie, “Won’t you come and be my Mama?” when the couple was still courting.)

By June 1863, Frederic had been away from home for about 10 months and had not had a furlough. The family remained in close contact through frequent letters. Ten-year-old Josephine, called “Jossie,” had a particular concern that month. Where did babies come from and how could her step-mama get one? As Lizzie explained in a letter to her husband on June 24, 1863:

What do you think is Jossie[‘]s greatest trouble? That I do not get a baby. Last night she dreamt that I had got one; and was sadly disappointed upon wakening to find it was naught but a dream—she cross-questions me equal to a lawyer—upon the subject. She says she is sure we some of us know where they come from—her Aunt and I told her that we had never had any therefore we should not be supposed to know anything about the matter. Mrs Duncan being here she applied to her, but she proved to be as ignorant as we were. She says they cannot cost so much for she saw a woman with one yesterday, and she is sure she is poorer than us. She thought she had gained her point, when she had suggested getting one, as a surprise for you, when you came home to see us. Would you fancy the surprise? Eh! Not exactly.[1]

Much to her step-daughter’s puzzlement and her husband’s approval, Lizzie did not have a baby in her arms when he came home. Frederic did return to New York on a furlough in November 1863.

About two months after his furlough, Lizzie was very “sick,” suffered a lot of pain, was looked after by a doctor, had to stay in bed for a week, and both Lizzie and Frederic seemed to be sad or disappointed in their letters, destroying portions that were “private” and might have had more information. Charles E. Rankin, the editor of the published letters, surmises that Lizzie may have had a miscarriage; compared to other primary sources with this type of loss, I agree with his guess.

Around the time that Lizzie was confined to bed for a week, Mrs. Duncan (a nearby neighbor) had a baby, prompting more commentary from the little girls about how to obtain a baby. Lizzie told Frederic:

I have news for you. Mrs. D presented her husband with a boy yesterday morning. Thursday afternoon she came up to see me it being being dusk before she prepared to return I tryed[sp] to prevail upon her remain till E came home that she might accompany her back, but in the rain I feared she would fall; and so she did, causing her illness sooner than was anticipated, but the Dr told me that it did not do any mischief. The children have all seen this little stranger and pronounce it the dearest little thing they ever saw. Tutie [Gertrude; the youngest; about age 6] came in her eyes sparkling and her cheeks aglow with the fresh air. O! Mama! Mama! I wish the Doctor would bring you a little baby boy like that. “Ain’t you sick enough?” Mrs. D was not sick so long as you. They attribute it entirely to her fall. They think the Doctor was so sorry for her that he brought it. Dollie [about age 8] says I guess Mrs. Duncan was not sorry that she fell, if she had not, she would not have got her dear little treasure.[2]

After the war, the little Lockley girls got their wished-for siblings! The family moved from upstate New York to Cleveland, Ohio, and Frederic and Lizzie had five children, three surviving childhood.


[1] Frederic and Elizabeth Lockley, edited by Charles E. Rankin, Toward A More Perfect Union: The Civil War Letters of Frederic and Elizabeth Lockley (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2023). Page 105.

[2] Ibid., Page 151.

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